“Being Thankful for Hope” Ephesians 1:15-23

Dear Shawn,

While this letter does not mean anything to you now, one day it might.  Hopefully this letter will provide some meaning to your family who has gathered today because they love and support you, but also to your church family who have also gathered today in thanksgiving and also because of this occasion.

As you will learn when you are older, the Apostle Paul was quite the letter writer.  While I enjoy writing, I do not pretend to be as prolific as Paul, for he wrote almost half of our New Testament.  The passage I read earlier was from a letter called Ephesians thought to have been a circular letter, meaning that it was read to or read by numerous congregations in Asia Minor with the first reading in a city called Ephesus.  Some think that Paul wrote from a Roman prison as he was facing his last days.  This could be called a Last Will and Testament, meaning his final thoughts.

Paul was conveying his gratitude for them and their witness; their faith in Jesus and love for other Christians was so noteworthy that he had heard about it.  News travels.  What someone says about a church, whether good or bad, generally gets back to the congregation.  Paul wanted those who read his letter to know that what they were doing mattered not only to each other and to God, but also to others outside of the congregation.  Our actions communicate volumes.  Paul wanted them to know how grateful he was, especially in his last days, of how they kept on believing amid difficulty and that the way they treated each other was noticed outside their community.

While we cannot make sense of what happens to our world, we are reminded by Paul’s words in verse 18, we are called to a “hope”; we are promised a “glorious inheritance.”  Shawn, you are called to a hope.  God created you for relationship.  As you grow older you will learn more and more about that, as we all do.  The glorious inheritance which you are promised is the same one promised to all of us-the lavish grace of God.  Each of us are beneficiaries of God’s grace which is just too good to be true.

In the Litany of Dedication, we said that we look forward to the day when you accept Jesus as your Savior.  In the letter Paul wrote, he said it this way, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” (v.17-19)

While you are very important to your family, you are also very important to God, for you have a place in God’s plan for the world.  We all do.  God has a plan for this world, and Christ is the centerpiece of God’s plan.  Our motivation and energy come from Christ.  Our direction and connection come from Christ who lives in us.  Christ is the centerpiece of God’s plan.

Shawn, you have entered a world which is in a mess.  Many in our nation wonder if we have international conflict on the horizon.  Global poverty, hunger, and terrorism leave most of the world wondering if there is any hope for the future.

Remember that Paul was writing at the end of his life.  For him, the evil powers in the world were going to take his life, but he did not offer negativity in his letter.  Instead he spoke of hope; he affirmed God’s gift to us in Christ Jesus; of God’s power over death through resurrection; of an eternal hope for those who read his letter.  He certainly could have focused on the present which was filled with doom and gloom, or fixated on the past which had provided him with some positive memories.  But instead he looked with hope to the future, because even his present circumstances could not steal that hope from him.  For him, Christ was the centerpiece of God’s plan; the same is true for us.

This plan of God is for Christ to gather up all things in heaven and on earth.  As you get older, you will find that church is filled with people who are broken and scattered.  People come to church for many reasons, but one reason is that this is the place which should be declaring hope.  Ours is a gospel word; there is a reason the story of Jesus is called “good news.”  When we consider the resurrection, we realize that not even death is more powerful than our God.  We know that because God raised Jesus from the dead, we can say with confidence: “light always wins.”

It is in Christ that we find the hope of the world; he is the one who can pick up the broken pieces of our lives and make sense of them.  Unlike Humpty Dumpty falling from the wall, while all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again, we know that Jesus can put us back together again.  The plan of God is for Christ to gather up all things in heaven and in earth.

“Gathering up” entails putting together the broken pieces and making sense of them.  The Jewish community wasn’t interested in allowing Jesus to gather up the broken pieces.  They did not accept him for being the Christ, the Promised One, partially because it interfered with their exclusive status as a community.  But from out of the Jewish community came another community called “Church,” this gathering of broken people whose commonality gave them comfort and identity.  But the Church was not created only to be a comfortable club as an oasis or haven.  The Church was created to provide hope for the world by being the hands and feet of God.

As you grow older, you will learn more of the stories of Jesus.  You will learn how he loved people, even those who were not like him.  You will learn how he always placed more importance on people than on the rules. You will be taught how to be a follower of Jesus, meaning one who is his disciple.  You will learn that Christians tell the truth, that followers of Jesus extend grace to those whom society says do not deserve it, and that people who try to live like Jesus are sometimes forced to make unpopular decisions.  You will learn that followers of Jesus are called members of the Body of Christ.

There is much about the institution called Church which is negative, because Church is composed of humans.  There is no perfect individual church, again because all churches are full of sinners saved by grace.  I am hopeful for the future, because there are children like you who will be raised in church with strong supportive parents and families.

But we do know that if God raised Jesus from the dead, there is nothing that our God cannot do.  We do know that God has a plan and that Christ is the centerpiece of that plan.  We do know that God’s plan is to gather up all the broken and scattered pieces of humanity in Christ.  We also do know that the Church has been given the mission of Christ to gather and mend as the hands and feet of God.

Shawn, today’s service is a testimony of hope.  When you were only seven-months-old, Lori became not only your foster mother on June 27, 2015, but she became your greatest champion.  She has only wanted the best for you since you came into her life.  Her involvement in the Foster Parent Association of Morgan County has been inspiring to many of us and motivational for some others to consider being Foster Parents.  I am grateful that the Foster Parent Association has their monthly meetings here at our church.  I am thankful for the hope that Lori is providing for you.

Shawn, you represent the future.  Ahead of you is hope; it is on your horizon.  As I look into your sweet innocent face, I am reminded of how great our God is and of how vast your potential is.  You have entered a world that holds no boundary for what you can do, and one day, as you make your profession of faith, your voice will join those who for centuries have been helping fulfill Jesus’ mission in the world by helping to mend the broken.  I am thankful for the hope that God is providing for you.

Shawn, your church loves you.  Because we value children so much, we called Stephanie Coyne, who competently is now leading our youth and children’s ministries.  We have a Children’s Sermon in every morning service; soon, you will be eligible to join Tiny Tunes Choir, and participate in Wednesday night discipleship groups.  As you grow up in this church, you will enjoy a huge, high-energy Vacation Bible School in the summer and as you get older, you will go to Children’s Camp with others from our church.  People will not only speak to you and shake your hand, but you let them, they will hug you and love on you.  I am thankful for the hope our church places on our ministry to children, because you will benefit from this wholesome Christian environment.

Most children have a Parent-Child-Church Dedication Service prior to their first birthday; yours is certainly a unique situation.  For you to walk up and down the aisle with me greeting those in the pews with smiles and receiving their sincere affirmation was a hopeful moment.  You are being molded by love, not only at home or by your relatives, but this church has signified in the Litany that you are a welcomed addition.  Your impression of church and how you feel about God largely gets shaped by how you are treated by church people.  Behavior of adults in church will continue to have an effect on you, and I hope that it continues to be a positive effect.

On this weekend before Thanksgiving, we count our blessings one by one.  We remember the goodness of our gracious God, and recall how we certainly don’t deserve God’s unmerited favor.  In doing so, we look at our past by remembering.  Today, I am also thankful for hope, which is a future-oriented word, knowing that God will be with you all your life, as God will be with me.  I also know that God only wants what is best for you.  I am thankful that you represent what is still good in our world.  And most of all, I am grateful to God for being so good to us in all things, past, present, and future.  We truly can be thankful for hope.

Love,

Mr. Charles